I’m not a teacher, but I’ve done some teaching. 20 years ago I taught a friend how to sew a dress using a pattern. I taught beginning sculpture in graduate school and I taught my mother to drive when she was 65 years old (that was definitely the scariest).
Last week while Jon and I were painting at the new house Mandy and her daughters Marliegh (who drove Red from Virginia to Bedlam Farm) and Delaney came by. As I was showing them the house, Delaney turned to me and asked if I would teach her to sew and in return she would help out at the new house. Although teaching makes me a bit nervous, I didn’t even have to think about it. I love the idea of showing someone how to sew who wants to learn. ( and honestly, I was impressed just that she asked me) Delaney’s a great kid, I had a feeling it would be good for both of us.
So yesterday, Delaney showed up at the studio with her grandmother’s 1956 Singer. When I first started sewing, I used one just like it, my mothers. (She bought her’s in the 1940’s.) The good part about them is they last forever, and are simple to use. The not so good part, is they are often slow and clunky, the thread is always getting jammed, and the tension is hard to adjust. Of course, it’s more than just a machine, it’s the story behind it and the emotion connected to it.
I teach the way I like to be taught. Show me what to do and give me space to do it, but be close enough to answer questions, any questions. I think the last thing a student needs is someone looking over her shoulder, telling her what she’s doing wrong. This worked great with Delaney, she has an enviable confidence from picking out the fabrics and designing a patchwork piece, to working the machine.
The other things I think about when teaching is being patient, making the whole experience as enjoyable as possible,(with my mother this meant getting a cup of coffee and muffin before she started driving) and choosing which mistakes to point out and when to do it. I teach just enough of the technical stuff to get started, everyone learns what they need to when they need to know it. And maybe most important is to be encouraging.
By the time Delaney was ready to go home, (an hour and a half later, which felt like 10 minutes) I could hear she had control over the machine. The stitches coming at a slow and steady pace. She had pieced together a patch that could easily have been made into a pillow. She took some fabric with her to do more sewing at home and said she’d text me after her soccer camp was over to have another lesson. She was still talking to me when I drove her home.
I take all these as a sign that I did an okay job. I hope so, it’s a big responsibility trying to teach someone something new. (I think of the ballet teacher I had in kindergarten, who stamped her cane on the floor with her every word and cured me of wanting to be a ballerina) Not only that, I really enjoyed it.